Verizon's new MiFi 8800L ($99.99) is the pinnacle of 4G hotspots, but it's coming just as 5G is about to round the corner.
If you need a Verizon hotspot for your business right now, this is a great one to buy, and our Editors' Choice.
But if you can hold off until March 2019 or so, the 5G situation will be much clearer and you'll be better prepared for the next five years of Verizon's network.
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The 8800L (made by Inseego, which was formerly known as Novatel Wireless) looks and acts a lot like the previous model, the Jetpack MiFi 7730L.
Both are matte plastic ovals with 2.4-inch color touch screens on the front.
They're about the same size, which is about the size of a deck of cards—in the case of the 8800L, that's 4.45 by 2.80 by 0.75 inches (HWD) and 5.71 ounces.
There are two external antenna ports and a USB-C port on the front face.
The 7730L also had a USB-A port on the back to charge other devices; with the 8800L, you do that via the USB-C port.
Under the hood, there are major 4G modem improvements, but in our testing, we didn't find that Verizon's network could rise to the promised maximum speeds.
It wasn't bad—it's just that the network never exceeded what the 7730L was already capable of.
However, we did see good signs for improved performance in weak-signal areas with the 8800L.
The 8800L is the only hotspot in the US to use Qualcomm's latest X20 modem, which has the ability to do five-carrier aggregation and supports LAA, which uses 5GHz airwaves to improve LTE speeds.
It supports LTE bands 2/4/5/7/13/14/20/28/46/48/66, as well as UMTS 3G, which means it will work well on Verizon's network and for international roaming, but it won't work well on other US carriers.
It has 4x4 MIMO antennas with dual external antenna ports.
A lot of that is true for the 7730L, though.
While the 7730L only has 3x carrier aggregation and no LAA on its Qualcomm X12 modem, it supports the same Verizon LTE bands, and in testing we just couldn't find Verizon coverage areas that pushed the 8800L's maximum speeds beyond the 7730L's capabilities.
Now, that may just be an artifact of where we were testing.
We tested the 8800L, 7730L, and 6620L against each other at nine locations in New York City, two of which were recommended by Verizon for strong wireless signal and two of which were selected by us as having particularly weak wireless signal.
In two of the locations, where we got perfectly good speeds in the 50Mbps range on the 8800L and 7730L, the older 6620L dropped to 3G because it's missing the bands Verizon is using in those areas.
If you look at Ookla Speedtest Intelligence crowdsourced results comparing 10,000-plus tests on the X20-based Samsung Galaxy S9 with 21,000-plus tests on the X12-based Samsung Galaxy S7 in October 2018, you do see a consistent difference in the modems nationwide.
The S9 averages 41.67Mbps down on LTE, where the S7 averages 32Mbps down.
Look at the top 10 percent of results and there's still a difference: 88.71Mbps down on the S9 to 70.73Mbps down on the S7 (note: Ookla is owned by Ziff Davis, Daxdi.com's parent company).
So, given how very similar the 7730L and 8800L are except for their modems, I think the 8800L will perform better on Verizon's network in the long term.
For more on Verizon's network, see our story on the Fastest Mobile Networks.
Extreme rural roamers may find one issue with the 8800L: It doesn't support the old CDMA network for fallback.
That said, Verizon is turning that network off at the end of 2019, and in our testing we found that newer LTE equipment can see 4G LTE where older units (like the 6620L) can only see 3G.
We're OK losing 3G at this point in time, especially because its days are literally numbered.
If you have an earlier hotspot like the 6620L, or a less capable hotspot like Verizon's Ellipsis series, though, you're going to see huge changes here.
Expect doubled speeds and considerably better LTE coverage.
Purely as a Wi-Fi hotspot, the 8800L does fine, once again on par with the 7730L.
In combined 2.4/5GHz, 802.11n/ac mode, we got between 75 to 100 feet of range; in 5GHz-only 802.11ac mode, we got around 40 to 50 feet.
I saw similar signal strength from the 8800L and 7730L at similar distances.
You can connect up to 15 devices, and separate them between standard and guest networks.
The 8800L has a good on-screen interface.
You can immediately see how much data you have left, and the count is updated every few minutes.
You can check your password, change Wi-Fi options, turn networks on and off, and see who's connected to your network.
There are deeper options for managing your network using a web-based UI.
One of the 8800L's few advances over the 7730L is that it supports an always-on OpenVPN mode at the router level.
Otherwise, you can filter or block devices or ports, manage the firewall, or activate pass-through for non-OpenVPN VPNs.
It's as flexible as a basic consumer router, which is much more flexible, network-wise, than the hotspot mode on your phone or cheaper routers like the Verizon Ellipsis lineup.
You can also share a USB stick onto your network using the USB-C port, but that requires either a USB-C stick or a C-to-A adapter, one of which is rare and the other one of which is clunky.
That said, I've seen this NAS-type functionality in hotspots for many years (it used to be in the form of a microSD card slot) but don't know many people who use it.
Why a Hotspot?
Now that everyone has hotspot modes on their phones, why buy a hotspot? Battery, billing, and big antennas.
Hotspot mode drains your phone's battery very quickly.
The 8800L, like the 7730L, comes with a big, chunky 4,400mAh battery that can stream data for up to 15 hours or so, or work for three to four days intermittently (the two hotspots' batteries are actually interchangeable).
You can even charge other devices using the 8800L's battery, by attaching a USB-C cable.
Anecdotally, at Daxdi, we invest in hotspots for business-billed mobile internet access.
That avoids the complexities of paying for employees' phone plans, and the hotspots can be passed from person to person without complicated accounting issues.
The 8800L also has the potential to get much better reception than your phone thanks to its two TS9 ports, which can work with third-party antennas.
Since you can convert TS9 to coax, you can hook up a giant rooftop antenna to this thing if you want… which is overkill, but it's something you can't do easily with your phone.
There are also a lot of smaller, portable antennas you can find at retailers like 3GStore.com.
I get a lot of emails asking about whether people can use Verizon hotspots for home internet access.
Because of the data plans, the answer is, not really.
Verizon hotspot data plans aren't cheap: 4GB for $50, 8GB for $70, and 14GB for $100 are far more expensive per gigabyte than cable or DSL, and even more expensive than Hughesnet, which offers 20GB for $70 and 30GB for $100.
Yes, I hear the rage of rural internet users who feel they have no good options.
I agree: Unfortunately, there are currently no good options.
Upcoming 5G networks may change some of this, but not for rural users.
Verizon's fast, high-capacity 5G system will initially be restricted to cities and inner-tier suburbs because of the type of spectrum that Verizon is using.
So you should expect 4G coverage on Verizon's network in rural areas for years to come.
Waiting for 5G
Verizon's new MiFi 8800L hotspot uses the fastest LTE technologies available.
If you're going to buy a hotspot now, buy this one.
But with 5G on the horizon bringing new speeds and more importantly new service plans, it's probably a better bet to wait six months and see what Verizon has to offer.
So here's the thing.
In December, AT&T will debut the Netgear M5 Fusion hotspot featuring the Qualcomm X50 5G modem.
Inseego has access to the same Qualcomm chipsets that Netgear does.
Probably in late February, Verizon will announce its new mobile 5G network, which will be 10 times as fast as 4G, and much more importantly, it will probably have unlimited data plans available.
For hotspot users, AT&T and Verizon are pretty much the only choices.
The hotspots T-Mobile and Sprint sell aren't very good in terms of coverage or speed.
Now, Verizon's 5G will, for the first several years, be a metro-area-only thing.
Verizon is using relatively short-range frequencies that have trouble covering rural and exurban areas.
So if you mostly intend to use your hotspot out of town, the 8800L is a good buy and your best choice.
But if you're an in-city business that can hold out for a while, it's worth seeing what Verizon has to offer in the 5G department.
If you need a hotspot, now, however, the 8800L is the best you can buy.
Verizon Jetpack MiFi 8800L
The Bottom Line
The new Verizon Jetpack MiFi 8800L hotspot has the best 4G LTE networking capabilities available today—but Verizon is about to launch a 5G network that could change everything.